“Scientism” in the eyes of the beholder

Well, I have finally been accused of “scientism.” Usually considered a derogatory label it is often used unjustly. After all, there a people who wish to discredit scientists and scientific findings because they these don’t support a product, or idea, they are selling. So it does come up as a defensive term in commercial, philosophical, religious and ideological promotion.

The dictionary meaning includes “the use of the scientific method of acquiring knowledge, whether in the traditional sciences or in other fields of enquiry.” But the derogatory meaning is “the belief that science alone can explain phenomena, or the application of scientific methods to fields unsuitable for it.”

Of course, I deny the charge. But then again the specific offence is often in the eyes of those using the label – as is obvious for those with commercial interests.

Ring fencing parts of reality

In this case the accuser (the author of the article The “god-of-the-gaps” argument at the NZ Christian Apologetics site Thinking Matters) presumably uses the label because he considers I advocate scientific investigations in areas he wishes to “ring fence” – to protect from science and allow only philosophical and theological explanations. He writes:

“How the universe literally came into being is widely recognised to be a matter beyond science, for in the singularity, all material things, including time itself, began to exist. . . . .the first cause of the origin of the universe will fall outside of the scientific endeavour. The formulation of Big Bang Cosmology creates a big “gap” for science, but a gap such as this has quite easily been filled by philosophers and theologians who expected it, for the cause of such an event can only be immaterial and timeless therefore changeless, uncaused and beginningless, enormously powerful and therefore a personal creator.

Second, The initial boundary conditions of the universe are themselves beyond the scope of science, and so one would expect explanations for these to also be outside science. “

Similarly he wishes to at least limit a role for science in “origins science” which he contrasts with “experimental” or laboratory science which is OK :

” Origin science deals with rare, often non-repeatable events and includes the study of history and forensic science. When the two branches of science are distinguished and it is obvious that researcher or investigator is operating with origin science, the gaps can assessed using Bayeseon formulae or the criteria for the best explanation.”

The “best explanation” approach is a common trick intelligent design (ID) proponents use to avoid experiential validation of the “design inferences.” And the “origin” or “historic” science label is a ploy creationist/ID proponents use for denying the huge amount of well accepted scientific knowledge in areas like evolution, origin of life, age of the earth and cosmology where it conflicts with their favourite myths.

As an aside let me say that these sort of distinctions between “historical” and “experimental” science are artificial as well as ideologically motivated. All science relies on evidence and experiential validation of hypotheses and theories. Of course the evidence of events in the distant past is sometimes difficult to find. That can make such research more difficult and there is more room for speculation (which the creationists try to take advantage of). However, past events usually do leave evidence we can recover in the present world.

The Christian apologists therefore  argue that  philosophy and theology have a special role in “historical” science and the origins of life and the universe. Of course there is philosophy and “philosophy” – and what they mean is a particular theistic, revelation-based, “philosophy” or theology. This is not a scientific philosophy – based on evidence and the epistemology of the scientific method. Nor does it have the ethos of  honesty, full disclosure and anti-authoritarianism implicit in science (see Society’s fear of science).

Well scientists will only ignore this message from Thinking Matters. They will continue their research – including in the exciting areas of origin of life, evolution, cosmology, formation of matter and origin of the universe. They will also continue their important work on climate change – another area in which this author thinks science has a questionable role (see Global Warming a New Religion).

Toxic religionism

Of course, the real problem is not “scientism” – science not knowing its place – but a form of  “religionism,”. theologyism” or “philosophism” – those religions, theologies and philosophies which don’t know their place. This is epitomised by creationism/ID which attempts to replace honest, evidence based and experientially validated scientific knowledge by bronze-age mythology.

Such religionism or philosophy is toxic – but fortunately this does not apply to all religion. Richard Dawkins recently interviewed Father George Coyne (a Catholic Priest and former Vatican astronomer) for his documentary The Genius of Darwin. The uncut video (below) of this interview has now been made available. I think Father Coyne gives good theological reasons why the “religionism” of the Christian apologists (like Thinking Matters) should be opposed.

Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (1/7)

Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (2/7)
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (3/7)
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (4/7)
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (5/7)
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (6/7)
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (7/7)

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53 responses to ““Scientism” in the eyes of the beholder

  1. Thank you for restoring my ‘faith’ in New Zealand – I may need some place to immigrate if the wingnuts take over (further) here in the US (I say this with tongue somewhat firmly planted in cheek).

    I decided to stop replying at thinkingmatters as the smugness was just too much. Their assurance seems reliant on overstating the reasonableness of their own case and on under representing the case for other positions. Which you sort of called them out on when magically the only sources were Christian apologists.

    Keep up the good work. I have enjoyed reading some of your other posts and found that liquor billboard laugh-out-loud funny.

    By the way can we send Ray Comfort back? (I think he is a native Zealander though it may be that other country near by).

    Barry

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  2. To start with, lets not be naive and think that you, Ken, have no ideological agenda.

    As for “ring fencing,” you’d have to explain how any scientific explanation can be given when science only investigates natural phenomenon that is a part of the universe, and the cause of the universe and the initial conditions just given in the Big Bang are antecedent to the universe itself. It seems to me that science has no way it could ever answer those questions, considering its bounds. Unless you are suggesting that the universe caused itself, which to me is obviously ridiculous.

    The inference to the best explanation approach is, contrary to your aspersions, well accepted within the historical sciences.

    The distinction of “historical” and “experimental” still holds. How can you validate experimentally a historical event? It seems to me you can only develop different scenarios and then test whether one scenario is more likely on the given knowledge of the world by the results. But that is using the inference to the best explanation approach.

    What scientism does is limits the pool of live options. Like Philip Johnson (and apparently many evolutionist) I’m quite willing to accept that evolution is the best explanation when the pool of live options is limited. But I see no reason to limit the pool of live options.

    Strong scientism is the view that some proposition or theory is true or rational if and only if it is a scientific proposition or theory. That is, if and only if it is a well-established scientific proposition or theory that, in turn, depends upon its having been successfully formed, tested, and used according to appropriate scientific methodology. There are no truths apart from scientific truths, and even if there were, there would be no reason whatever to believe them… [W]eak scientism allows for the existence of truth apart from science and are even willing to grant that they can have some minimal, positive rationality status without the support of science. But, science is the most valuable, most serious, and most authoritative sector of human learning. If strong scientism is true, then theology is not a rational enterprise at all and there is no such thing as theological knowledge. If weak scientism is true, then the conversation between theology and science will be a monologue with theology listening to science and waiting for science to give it support.

    J.P. Moreland, LOVE GOD WITH ALL YOUR MIND (COLORADO SPRINGS: NAVPRESS, 1997), P. 144-145.

    As for “toxic religionism” I simply suggest that on evaluation of the logic that it is in fact strong scientism that is toxic to the truth.

    For instance, the statement “some proposition or theory is true or rational if and only if it is a scientific proposition or theory” is inherently self-contradictory. This is not a scientific proposition or theory. It is a philosophical theory and therefore by its own definition, false or irrational.

    I think I’ll be writing more on this at http://www.thinkingmatters.org.nz soon. In the mean time I would ask you Ken, what (if any) of the above definition of scientism do you hold to?

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  3. Interesting video.
    Thanks Ken.

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  4. It’s a very good video. I enjoyed it very much when I watched it on Damian’s blog. I appreciate Father Coyne’s position.

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  5. @2:

    To start with, lets not be naive and think that you, Ken, have no ideological agenda.

    You’ve started by assuming someone has an ideological agenda… (Ironically, this could be held as illustrating that you do.)

    That Christian apologists (of all shades) cling to framing devices like “Darwinism”, “Evolutionism”, “Scientism”, to me it shows up several things, including:

    1. They won’t argue from their own position (if they have one), but work by “opposing” others. This is, of course, at the heart of the how those supporting ID/Creationism try avoid the fact that their chosen position conflicts with established science: nothing positive is put forward to “support” ID/Creationism (other than assertions), all effort is on “dismissing” what conflicts with the position they have taken.

    2. They seem to only be able to oppose others by first framing them with some sort of label that they can then manipulate the argument with. That’s the whole point of framing-devices, of course. It’s just that it’s dishonest if the framing itself is dishonest or inappropriate, as is most often the case (which is why people are rightfully wary of framing-devices). It also tries to make the focus of discussion the labels rather than any scientific evidence; it actually becomes a way of avoiding facing the evidence.

    3. Following from my previous point about appropriateness, they always seem quite happy to narrow definitions to fit their agenda (scientism for example has a more commonly-used wider meaning of “improper usage of science or scientific claims”, as in trying to “put one over others”). Usually these “select definitions” prove to be, in circular fashion, to be the restricted use of the term found only in Christian apologist works, which, in turn, reveals how limited their sources are.

    (Note the source of Stuart’s definition for ‘strong scientism’. I don’t agree with the label at all-it strikes me as a apologists’ straw man-but leaving that aside, a more accurate definition, based on the one given, would be “[Strong] scientism is a label applied to those who consider that some people believe that claiming that some proposition or theory is true or rational if and only if it is a scientific proposition or theory, by those who consider that this is overreaching or wishing to dismiss their proposition or theory.” Note how Moreland has scientists saying that have “strong scientism”: he is foisting it on them. This comes back to a point previously dealt with: labels describing people should be ones that they describe themselves with, otherwise they will generally be inappropriate. In one sense the label does apply, but it has been framed in a way that leads to misuse.)

    4. They pretty much never actually look at what the “opposition” is saying, often by their own admission, only what their apologists say. It goes without saying that if you don’t read the original sources of an arguments, you’ll never get an honest and accurate understanding of their position.

    Furthermore, you can’t claim any particular scientific argument is “scientism” (in the commonly-held meaning of the word), without considering the evidence and arguments for that scientific argument. But they won’t do that. By only working from apologists, they just travel around in a hopeless, and pointless, self-justification exercise.

    It is a philosophical theory and therefore by its own definition, false or irrational.

    Then all your arguments, and those of the apologists you lean on, are “false or irrational”. I think you are quite correct (for once). Where you are incorrect is that your previous statement skips over the key point of the ‘scientific method’ is that it works to try (best as it can) avoid bias or irrationality.

    It seems to me that science has no way it could ever answer those questions, considering its bounds. Unless you are suggesting that the universe caused itself, which to me is obviously ridiculous.

    Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean others can’t. You have to include the possibility that you can’t see, in particular because you won’t genuinely consider their argument by reading the original sources. Without doing this you will never be in a position to “dismiss” the opposition’s argument. You clearly want to dismiss others’ argument, but to do that you will first have to read their argument, in their own words, and deal with the things they present.

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  6. @ Stuart – January 5, 2009 at 9:14 am

    You may continue to deny science a role in investigating the origins of our local universe, or any other subject, till the “cows come home.” It doesn’t stop science actually doing it. No-one will listen to you on that – and humanity wouldn’t want them too -for obvious reasons. Scientific knowledge is in the best interests of humanity.

    I will provocatively assert that in practice science does not investigate natural phenomena (in the sense of normal or known) it investigates “supernatural” phenomena. (“Supernatural” can mean “relating to or attributed to phenomena that cannot be explained by natural laws” – the very subject we want to find more about and actively research). In practice, of course, no scientist makes the distinction, they just get on and do their work. But they do rely on evidence and all this talk about natural vs supernatural is only an attempt to sneak in evidence-free ideas – and to protect “inferences” from experiential validation..

    “The inference to the best explanation approach is, contrary to your aspersions, well accepted within the historical sciences.” – you admit that you rely on sources like Meyer for these concepts. These are creationist and apologetics sources – not scientific sources. Again you are trying to impose you own wishes on the activity and interpretation of science. This ‘inference to the best explanation’ argument is not a scientific process – it’s very much a ploy the ID people use to justify their non-scientific approach.

    Similarly your reliance on Moreland for a derogatory classification of science. It’s interesting that in all these attempts to vilify scientific knowledge there is no critical assessment of the alternative that you presumably wish to promote – religious knowledge. To somehow deny scientific knowledge as “false or irrational” and then, by default, claim a higher role for revelation as a source of knowledge or truth. If there was any truth in that assertion it would certainly stand on its own feet – not rely on “winning” an argument by default, by presentation of faulty logic. Reminds me very much of Dembski’s design filter – and in fact the whole approach of ID by default.

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  7. @ BarryLeder – January 5, 2009 at 5:57 am

    No, we could do without Ray Comfort. Mind you, it’s intriguing to speculate what effect he would have. With only 20% or so of NZers not accepting evolutionary science the creationist activity here is rather muted (although they often make attempts). A more public creationist profile may actually lead to much more debate here – which could be a good thing for science. The debate could help change the views of some of these 20%.

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  8. @1:

    Ray Comfort is certainly from New Zealand, I can still remember him being on TV… (I have a flashback of sideburns for some reason!)

    But wouldn’t the better solution be to leave him in the USA and come here?

    (By the it’s usually ‘New Zealander’, with the ‘New’. Or just ‘Kiwis’! Incidentally, Zealand refers to Zeeland a province of the Netherlands after which the Dutch authorities-not Abel Tasman-named the country, e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeeland)

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  9. Thanks Ken and Heraclides — No offense intended on Zealander, I just liked the funny way it sounded. I am sort of an aural person. Kiwis is funny too, but I wasn’t sure if it was mean spirited. You have my permission to refer to me as the ugly American.

    I do like that New Z scores very high (?third in the world?) on the personal and economic liberties front.

    The Oxford Companion to Philosophy implies that to accuse someone of Scientism is about the equivalent of calling someone a wanker. It directly states no one defines themselves as forwarding scientism, though I suppose it is not too different that forwarding logical positivism.

    If only we had a dollar, for every time an apologist described something as self refuting.

    Curious in what direction is the momentum on creationism running? In the US, despite the bluster, the direction does seem to be away from such belief. Although, slowly.

    Keep up the good work.

    barry

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  10. how cool, do i have my own icon? You spoil me so.

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  11. Ken says on the fine-tuning treads comments;

    If you don’t use honest process like science you don’t get to the truth.

    Is this not scientism? Is this not self-referentially incoherent?

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  12. @ Stuart – January 6, 2009 at 9:41 am.

    “Is this not scientism? Is this not self-referentially incoherent?” – No – not in my view. But I am willing to consider any evidence you have to support your claim. Otherwise I see it as just a way of avoiding the obvious without justifying an alternative.

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  13. Ken, you are throwing logic out the window. And if you throw logic out then all scientific conclusions are called into question.

    Here is what you said: “If you don’t use honest process like science you don’t get to the truth.”

    Is this statement true? What process of science did you use to come to this true conclusion? The statement is self-refuting. I can not stress this enough – these are not word games Stuart is playing. It goes to the core of human rationality. And any discovery that rational effort uncovers.

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  14. @13:

    All you are doing is parroting Stuart’s words. A positive contribution (by either you or Stuart) would be demonstrate how “If you don’t use honest process like science you don’t get to the truth” is supposedly self-refuting.

    I personally would have chosen a very slightly different wording, which comes to the same thing, but gives a indication of why in the statement: “If you don’t use honest process like science you you won’t be able to know if your conclusion is the truth or not”. By using a dishonest process you might by chance happen to get the right answer, but because the process by which you derived it is dishonest you won’t be able to determine if it is actually the truth or not.

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  15. Ken,

    Your section subtitled “Toxic religionism” reminds me a short passage of Small Gods (Pratchett for those not familiar with it) which I am slowly re-reading, where Brutha is considered a nuisance by his more senior religious peers for his overboard following of religion. Prachett for the most part does a great job of slipping in little thoughts and insights into his satire and besides his writing is fun!

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  16. Correction: “If you don’t use an honest process like science you you won’t be able to know if your conclusion is the truth or not”. Sorry about that: typing this out in a hurry and all that…

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  17. Stuart & James – what is yuour alternative to an honest approach – a dishonest one obviously.

    Creationism, Expelled etc., are blatantly dishonest. Facts are distorted to fit a preconceived agenda. So often we hear outright lies told (eg. “no transitional fossils”) in the interests of pursuing a mythical belief.For many religious people (those guilty of “religionism” I mention in my post) truth is not a high priority. James – you yourself argued for telling untruths to children if they served your religious agenda. To just declare “god did it” with no evidence is surely arguing for a preconceived belief – not truth.

    For science their is an inherent ethos which does work to reveal truth – because it is validated by reality and open to rational critique and peer review. Not always, not perfectly, and not without prejudice. But the tendency is there and it has a long term effect. Not so for the religionist who thinks that they can explain reality without evidence.

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  18. @ 15 Yay, another Pratchett fan 🙂 I’m reading Nation at the moment, & it also has some interesting things to say about science & religion.

    On-topic – I don’t know that I’d use the word ‘truth’ myself – so my rephrasing would be that an honest approach like science will lead you to the best possible approximation of how the world works. It’s never going to be 100% certain. That, to me, seems to be one of the major differences between science & religion – because the various world religions do claim to offer that absolute truth.

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  19. I personally would have chosen a very slightly different wording, which comes to the same thing, but gives a indication of why in the statement: “If you don’t use honest process like science you you won’t be able to know if your conclusion is the truth or not”. By using a dishonest process you might by chance happen to get the right answer, but because the process by which you derived it is dishonest you won’t be able to determine if it is actually the truth or not.

    Heraclides, don’t you get the problem? You said:“If you don’t use honest process like science you won’t be able to know if your conclusion is the truth or not”

    Is that statement truthful? Did you use the scientific process to come to that conclusion? And since you did not use the scientific process to come to that conclusion how can you know if it is truthful or not. This is why such statements are self-refuting. So here are our options:

    1. You can not know if your claim is true, since it did not come by the scientific process, or

    2. It is a truth that can be known apart from the scientific process. Which undermines the claim itself. The scientific process is not necessary for truth in all cases.

    Either way the claim is false.

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  20. James – you yourself argued for telling untruths to children if they served your religious agenda. To just declare “god did it” with no evidence is surely arguing for a preconceived belief – not truth.

    That is not what I argued for Ken. I asked the question – in a godless universe what obligation do we have to truth? If a lie (no matter which lie) helped one to survive better why would it be wrong? And I might remind you Ken, not one of you had a rational answer. In a godless universe there is no moral obligation to truth. Especially if a lie helps one survive better.

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  21. @18:

    Yes, I’m a Pratchett fan… I get a bit confused as to what I’ve already read, though, especially as so many of the characters are the same and I tend to have long gaps between when I have time to read. Haven’t read Nation or Making Money yet, waiting for them to end up in the bargain bins or at the library on free loan.

    Good point about ‘truth’. Guilty as charged and all that. As you say the definition shouldn’t be worded as to be absolute. I should have picked up on that myself…

    I’ve added a comment to the “G-d of the gaps” thread at thinkingmatters, but no reply.

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  22. Pingback: A rational universe? « Open Parachute

  23. @19:

    More like demonstrating that you are an idiot! Both your statements are based on the same thing reworded… go on, read them. “it did not come by the scientific process” vs. “It is […] known apart from the scientific process” are saying the same thing, they are not alternatives as you claim. That’s what you get for slavishly following apologists…! 🙂

    Even without this, it’s moot on several counts:

    Your “conclusion” thinks that I had written “If you don’t use the scientific method you won’t be able to know if your conclusion is the truth or not”, but I didn’t. Point is, your statement doesn’t even address what I actually wrote. My point was that honesty (in both the usual and literal senses) is required if you want to get the best answer you can, which you don’t address at all. You never seem to be able to respond to what people actually write, but then I guess that’s trolls for you. Or perhaps it’s because you slavishly follow apologists without bothering to think. Maybe the difference amounts to the same thing. Who knows, I don’t care.

    My statement itself is not a statement based on working with evidence, it’s a statement of logic. The scientific method is an approach for dealing with evidence, not pure logic on it’s own. That’s where science and mathematics are different: the latter deals with pure logic and is used as a tool for science.

    Like all tools, you can abuse mathematics and logic (witness various creationist attempts to abuse mathematics to “prove” something incorrectly, and so much of creationist and apologetic “logic”). But these aren’t “the scientific method”, they are tools used by scientists (and others).

    The apologists you are repeating are doing their “usual” exploitation of ignorance. Either that, or they are so confused themselves that they are saying completely dotty things (which, reading the things they say, wouldn’t surprise me). What they are doing is confusing vaguely related, but quite distinct things, to “allow” themselves to mix criticism of one with the other to come up with illogical attacks on science, in this case to create the false impression that to attack any form of logic is to attack science. It’s the same approach as the mixed-up statement Stuart based his “G-d of the gaps” thread on, blurring or avoiding the distinction between things so that they can be mixed to illogical effect. That’s what you get with dishonest arguments.

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  24. @20: not one of you had a rational answer That’s a lie 🙂

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  25. “The scientific method is an approach for dealing with evidence, not pure logic on it’s own.”

    And so, it can lead you so that you are allowed to make irrational claims?

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  26. So, the patented “scientism” accusation has been hurled out because someone wishes to shield certain beliefs from rational, scientific investigation. Furthermore, the usual suspects come out and bleat their “Self-refuting! Self-refuting!” mantra. A familiar start to the New Year…

    This “scientism” claim has more or less replaced the “logical positivism” accusation of previous decades, probably because the latter became too obviously absurd and just plain wrong even for religious apologists to use. However, the intent is still the same: to try and carve out a niche where the very “nature of the question” allegedly demands a specific methodology and where rational investigation, of which the scientific method is a highly specialized and disciplined subset, is not applicable. The “alternative” which is presented (overtly or sometimes covertly through obscurantisms like “best inference” or “Bayesian formulae”) is the arbitrary introduction of the individually preferred religious dogma.

    However, this approach is doomed to failure due to several reasons:

    1. By trying to in limine bar certain questions pertaining to the physical world from rational, scientific investigation, one tries to set up a (pseudo-)positivist criterion to define what is or is not a scientific problem. But in doing so, one either has to rationally and conclusively justify said criterion or, to avoid begging the question, one would have to show that

    a) one has already answered said questions truthfully and definitively, and

    b) said answers could not have been found through rational, scientific investigation.

    Otherwise, one is only engaged in baseless speculation.

    2. The attempt to distinguish between “historic” and “experimental” science (which presumably pertains to the natural sciences) is totally misguided and betrays a profound ignorance of the nature of scientific inquiry.

    It is wrong on a theoretical level because it ignores the fact that any “science”, no matter what its particular field of inquiry is, relies on common criteria, methodologies and frameworks, e.g. the devising and testing of hypotheses and theories which draw on facts that lie in the scientist’s immediate sphere of experience, and consequently on perceptions of different kinds.

    It goes without saying that the specific methods, design of experiments and technical apparatuses which are used to aid in the inquiry have to be adapted to the respective field of investigation. However, that does not provide a justification to introduce arbitrary demarcations where allegedly different, incommensurable “kinds” of science are employed.

    It is also wrong on a practical level since numerous counterexamples exist.

    A geologist researching the rise of a mountain range over millions of years can hardly re-create this event repeatedly in a lab, so he/she has to use other methods. Is he/she engaging in “historic” science?

    Historians who re-build an ancient fortress and repeatedly fire cannonballs at it are testing whether the respective historical report about the destruction of said fortress is credible. Are they conducting “experimental” science?

    Of course not. All those people are doing “science” while using methods which are suited to answer the particular problems they are working on.

    3. Even if it could be conclusively shown that a certain problem pertaining to believes about the physical world is incapable in principle to be addressed through rational, scientific investigation (for which I have yet to see an intelligible case being made apart from assertions based on personal incredulity), it does not increase the likelihood of an answer solely based on religious dogma without corroborating evidence and a putative mechanism because

    a) the set of logically possible explanations or justifications contains infinitely many members, while the particular explanation/justification of the religious apologist is logically not a priori distinguished in any way which could be “inductively” inferred and furthermore its explanatory capability is solely based on arbitrary definitions that are incorporated as needed into the concept of a deity (which is a general objection against “transcendent” justifications and explanations), and

    b) it introduces an entity of which nothing is known except for bare, mutually contradictory assertions and definitions (“timeless”, “changeless”, “personal”, “powerful” etc. etc.) that are frequently not even unanimously agreed on, thus providing an “explanation” which on the one hand does not increase our knowledge in any meaningful way and on the other hand raises a bunch of virtually insoluble problems of corroboration.

    In other words, there is no cognitive or logical advantage to the religious “explanation”. So why should we adopt it?

    Finally, some thoughts on this “self-refuting” nonsense:

    both scientists and philosophers of science worth their salt recognize and continuously stress the preliminary nature of our scientific knowledge, models and theories and furthermore the fact that we can never be absolutely certain of being in possession of THE TRUTH. Thus, all scientific results and conclusions are incessantly tested and critiqued, while always being open to amendment or even outright abandonment.

    The outcome is a body of interwoven knowledge which is based on intersubjective corroboration as well as ceaseless mapping against reality; Popper called this the “regulatory idea of truth”. Due to this method, said knowledge deserves a very high confidence value.

    Now, this does not mean that only science can produce true or at least approximately correct beliefs about the physical world. As Heraclides already mentioned, one might stumble upon a piece of true knowledge by pure luck or a stroke of genius or simply by going about one’s daily routine. However, the only way we have developed thusfar to increase our confidence in said knowledge is by making it amenable to intersubjective corroboration and testing against reality. Lacking this possibility and/or willingness (*cough* – religious dogma – *cough*), any such claims deserve a low confidence value.

    P.S.: I see that Mr. Reset Button is back in business:

    “I asked the question – in a godless universe what obligation do we have to truth? […] And I might remind you Ken, not one of you had a rational answer.”

    I asked the question: in a god-filled universe, what obligation do we have to truth? And I might remind you, James, you had no rational answer.

    In the end, you were reduced to preaching about “Standing at the bar and being judged”, “My faith in Jesus Christ will be vindicated” and other gems of rationality.

    So, wanna try again?

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  27. “I asked the question – in a godless universe what obligation do we have to truth? […] And I might remind you Ken, not one of you had a rational answer.”

    I asked the question: in a god-filled universe, what obligation do we have to truth? And I might remind you, James, you had no rational answer.

    First Iapetus, I only brought this up again because Ken was misrepresenting what I said. I was not suggesting that we teach our children untruths – but only that there is no moral obligation for truth telling in a godless universe – especially if those untruths help one to survive better.

    If you have a rational objection please present it. I have not heard one yet.

    And of course as a Christian I do believe we have an obligation to obey God. God is truth and lying is morally wrong. That position is perfectly rational. You can deny the premise of God existence, but the logic follows. If God exists you are accountable to Him.

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  28. Finally, some thoughts on this “self-refuting” nonsense..

    It is not nonsense Iapetus. Let me repeat what Ken said:

    “If you don’t use honest process like science you don’t get to the truth.”

    Iapetus do you deny that this statement is self-refuting? If you do please show how it isn’t. Be specific please.

    BTW you may want to repost your points here:

    http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2008/the-god-of-the-gaps-argument/#comments

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  29. Perhaps I should comment on my use of the word “truth”. Of course it was thrown in as a provocation because those guilty of “religonism” constantly claim they are the only ones with the “truth”. And the provocation certainly got a response, didn’t it???

    But my attitude is that of a philosophical realist. There is an objective reality out there. It is, in principle, capable of being known. We are capably of developing pictures of that reality – imperfect reflections but still connected to that reality. The scientific method enables this – and it enables us to constantly improve the accuracy of our reflection of reality. Sure, we will never get a complete picture (that would be required for the “truth”), but we get closer and closer. We do this because we constant check with reality, we test our theories experientially.

    We know the scientific method is powerful – and it is this relationship with reality which gives it this power, and its dynamic character.

    So, sure, we cannot reach the absolute “truth” using the scientific method – but that doesn’t hand over that role, by default, to religion. Let’s here an evidence-based argument for the claim of “relgionism” that they alone can find the “truth.”

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  30. Darjo – obviously logic divorced from reality can lead to irrational claims. I guess sometimes the scientific process has produced irrational ideas – but the scientific method being self correcting does eventually correct these. It does this because it is connected with reality. Pure logic alone cannot correct itself unless it takes noticed of reality.

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  31. “I was not suggesting that we teach our children untruths – but only that there is no moral obligation for truth telling in a godless universe – especially if those untruths help one to survive better.”

    I have explained the mistake in this to you before, but of course you ignored it again.

    Saying that a certain behaviour (in this case: lying) “helps one to survive better” and should therefore be pursued is a value judgement. It is equivalent to saying: “You should lie!” to further the goal of survival (which is another value judgement, since it is the overarching goal you have just determined as worth pursuing). Thus, you contradict yourself on your own terms here when you deny that moral obligations are possible in a godless universe, because you have just defined them.

    Furthermore, according to your “logic”, if it could be shown that telling the truth increases the chances of survival (which is certainly conceivable), it would follow that it should be pursued. Thus, a theist and a non-theist would come to the same moral conclusion in your own model.

    Of course, that does not even touch the fact that you were unable to show non-theistic moral systems to be logically or rationally incoherent. That you find them emotionally unsatisfying and refuse to be bound by them is psychologically interesting, but otherwise utterly irrelevant in this regard.

    “And of course as a Christian I do believe we have an obligation to obey God. God is truth and lying is morally wrong. That position is perfectly rational. You can deny the premise of God existence, but the logic follows. If God exists you are accountable to Him.”

    A nice bunch of assertions we have here. Let’s go through the fallacies, shall we?

    1. Let me grant for the sake of argument that you could somehow show that your god is starkly different from the thousands and thousands of gods and goddesses humanity has invented over the millenia in that he actually exists. Let me further grant the dubious, unintelligible statement that he “is truth” (I shall cover these assertions infra).

    What is the rational justification that I should feel a stronger moral accountability to him than to my Uncle Joe? What is the logical difference to saying “If my Uncle Joe exists, you are morally accountable to him. You can deny my Uncle Joe’s existence, but the logic follows.”?

    2. Saying that “God is truth” is borderline incoherent. What is this supposed to mean?

    A usual definition of a true statement is a “factually correct description of certain aspects of reality”. Is your god identical to reality? Are you a pantheist? Or is he identical to a true statement?

    3. I presume that you consider your premise of the existence of your god to be a certain truth and not a mere assertion or a tentative hypothesis. Thus, I would be interested to hear how you rationally justify this certain truth and its indubitable status. Or is it a basic presupposition that can not be further justified?

    I would think very carefully before answering this…

    “BTW you may want to repost your points here: (link)”

    No thanks.

    I have no intention of posting on a site where egos are so fragile that posts are deleted and people get banned for daring to have a different opinion.

    Anyone who wants to interact with me is welcome to do so here.

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  32. Saying that a certain behaviour (in this case: lying) “helps one to survive better” and should therefore be pursued is a value judgement. It is equivalent to saying: “You should lie!” to further the goal of survival (which is another value judgement, since it is the overarching goal you have just determined as worth pursuing). Thus, you contradict yourself on your own terms here when you deny that moral obligations are possible in a godless universe, because you have just defined them.

    This is just silly Iapetus. Yes, you could say that it is a moral obligation to one’s self. But even that is a stretch. My dog wants to survive and I’m sure he would lie to do it, if he could.

    Furthermore, according to your “logic”, if it could be shown that telling the truth increases the chances of survival (which is certainly conceivable), it would follow that it should be pursued. Thus, a theist and a non-theist would come to the same moral conclusion in your own model.

    But the obligation is not to a moral principle per-say but to survival. If truth telling helps one to survive, then that is moral, is lying helps one survive then that too would be moral. So how is doing anything to survive a moral obligation? Obligation to whom?

    Of course, that does not even touch the fact that you were unable to show non-theistic moral systems to be logically or rationally incoherent. That you find them emotionally unsatisfying and refuse to be bound by them is psychologically interesting, but otherwise utterly irrelevant in this regard.

    Well sure just about any person with half a brain can invent a consistent moral theory – but so what? That tells us nothing except about that person’s personal preference.

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  33. @ James – January 7, 2009 at 12:01 am

    James, specifically on this advocating of telling lies – at the time your point was that it was OK to lie to children about evolution/creation/god (“Let’s say that I taught my children a lie. But that lie gave them hope and joy and purpose to their dying day. What have I done wrong?”) You were reacting to me describing such lying as a form of child abuse (“Biblically correct” child abuse?).

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  34. “This is just silly Iapetus. Yes, you could say that it is a moral obligation to one’s self. But even that is a stretch.”

    Not at all. It is a straightforward consequence of your premise that the overall guiding principle should be survival. From there it follows that actions which further this goal should be pursued and actions which do not further this goal should be abstained from. Thus, we have a system which provides us with prescriptive statements, i.e. a system of morality.

    I am of course aware that this is not what you intended to say. However, as I have explained to you before, it is the (from your point of view) unintended outcome of your constant confounding of descriptive and prescriptive statements.

    “But the obligation is not to a moral principle per-say but to survival. If truth telling helps one to survive, then that is moral, is lying helps one survive then that too would be moral. So how is doing anything to survive a moral obligation? Obligation to whom?”

    You seem somewhat confused here. So I will have to provide some background.

    We generally distinguish between moral theories which hold that the rightness or wrongness of certain actions is intrinsic to those actions irrespective of the outcome (deontological moral theories) and those which deem that the moral status of an action must be determined by the result it produces (consequentialist or teleological moral theories).

    Kant’s moral theory with his “Categorical Imperative” is a prime example of the former, while utilitarianism is an example of the latter kind of moral theory.

    Now, to take your example, if one were to decide that “survival” (either personal, tribal or encompassing the whole of humanity) is a “good” or “desired” consequence, it would broadly follow that any action which furthers this “survival” is morally acceptable, while any action which is detrimental would be seen as morally unacceptable (of course, the example itself as well as the outline I give here are only crude sketches of a rather complex and intensely discussed field of philosophy).

    Thus, in teleological moral systems there is no unwavering “obligation” or “duty” to specific moral principles or authorities as in deontological moral systems, apart from the overall guiding principle.

    In general, deontological moral systems suffer from many internal and external difficulties, e.g. what to do in a situation where certain “duties” conflict with each other. However, the most pressing difficulty in our context is how any moral system which purports to be objectivist (as virtually all deontological systems claim to be) can justify this pretense, especially if it relies on the will of a deity as its basis. In this context, you have not answered the questions under points 1-3 of my last post.

    So, I’m all ears…

    “Well sure just about any person with half a brain can invent a consistent moral theory – but so what? That tells us nothing except about that person’s personal preference.”

    Do you really want to go there again? Need I remind you once more of what the majority of humanity thinks about your moral system and its demands? Did you forget the outcome of your last attempt to show the supreme standard and unassailable basis of your “objective morality”?

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  35. Not at all. It is a straightforward consequence of your premise that the overall guiding principle should be survival. From there it follows that actions which further this goal should be pursued and actions which do not further this goal should be abstained from. Thus, we have a system which provides us with prescriptive statements, i.e. a system of morality.

    When we speak of obligation Iapetus we usually use it in the context of obligation to others. Not merely to our own selfish needs. Moral theories deal with the collective. Morality is about how we interact with others. Nevertheless, if lying does help my survival then it is a good thing. My point still stands – we have no moral obligation to tell the truth.

    In general, deontological moral systems suffer from many internal and external difficulties, e.g. what to do in a situation where certain “duties” conflict with each other. However, the most pressing difficulty in our context is how any moral system which purports to be objectivist (as virtually all deontological systems claim to be) can justify this pretense, especially if it relies on the will of a deity as its basis. In this context, you have not answered the questions under points 1-3 of my last post.

    Iapetus, it doesn’t matter what difficulties one may encounter with an objective view of morality, this does not change my point. In a godless universe we have no obligation for truth telling. Are you denying that? Especially if lying furthers one’s survival.

    Do you really want to go there again? Need I remind you once more of what the majority of humanity thinks about your moral system and its demands? Did you forget the outcome of your last attempt to show the supreme standard and unassailable basis of your “objective morality”?

    As far as I know the majority of humanity does believe in objective moral truths. Whether theists or polytheists.

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  36. What is the rational justification that I should feel a stronger moral accountability to him than to my Uncle Joe? What is the logical difference to saying “If my Uncle Joe exists, you are morally accountable to him. You can deny my Uncle Joe’s existence, but the logic follows.”?

    Your uncle Joe is not a morally perfect Creator. Now uncle Joe, like God, may require your obedience – and in both cases you can reject those requirements. If you reject God you finally reject life and embrace death. Your rejection of God only hurts you.

    2. Saying that “God is truth” is borderline incoherent. What is this supposed to mean?

    A usual definition of a true statement is a “factually correct description of certain aspects of reality”. Is your god identical to reality? Are you a pantheist? Or is he identical to a true statement?

    First, your second statement simply does not follow. Second, it is not incoherent in the least. God never lies. He is perfectly truthful. Unlike us.

    3. I presume that you consider your premise of the existence of your god to be a certain truth and not a mere assertion or a tentative hypothesis. Thus, I would be interested to hear how you rationally justify this certain truth and its indubitable status. Or is it a basic presupposition that can not be further justified?

    Yes, the bible as the word of God is my first assumption.

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  37. James, specifically on this advocating of telling lies – at the time your point was that it was OK to lie to children about evolution/creation/god (“Let’s say that I taught my children a lie. But that lie gave them hope and joy and purpose to their dying day. What have I done wrong?”) You were reacting to me describing such lying as a form of child abuse (“Biblically correct” child abuse?).

    Ken did I say it was Ok to lie to children? No! I was simply asking you – in a godless universe why would this be wrong – expecially if it helped one survive. What is wrong with lying Ken if it helps one to survive? So you are spreading falsehoods about me. Very unethical Ken…

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  38. And Iapetus you did not answer this:

    It is not nonsense Iapetus. Let me repeat what Ken said:

    “If you don’t use honest process like science you don’t get to the truth.”

    Iapetus do you deny that this statement is self-refuting? If you do please show how it isn’t. Be specific please.

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  39. “When we speak of obligation Iapetus we usually use it in the context of obligation to others. Not merely to our own selfish needs. Moral theories deal with the collective. Morality is about how we interact with others.”

    If I choose my own survival as the overarching principle, I will derive prescriptive statements for my dealings with others. You defined one yourself: “You should lie!”. According to my understanding, this requires at least two people.

    “Nevertheless, if lying does help my survival then it is a good thing. My point still stands – we have no moral obligation to tell the truth.”

    And in a situation where lying does not help my survival, it is a bad thing. We can think of such situations easily:

    imagine you are sitting tied to a chair on a trapdoor that will open in 60s and let you plunge to your certain death. However, there is a blind person in the room with you who could disarm the trapdoor, but can not find the mechanism on his own. In such a scenario, lying about the location of the mechanism is eminently detrimental to your survival, i.e. you should not do it.

    Thus your point is (once again) refuted – even in your own, far-fetched and simplistic scenario, telling the truth can be morally demanded.

    Of course, modern non-theistic moral systems do not rely on such naive, crude notions like the mere survival of the individual as the only guiding principle. I mentioned such frameworks as contractualism before, which are based on the recognition of all people as rational, autonomous agents that have to negotiate binding agreements between them that nobody could reasonably object to. This is a far cry from the straw-man you present here.

    “As far as I know the majority of humanity does believe in objective moral truths. Whether theists or polytheists.”

    You forgot to mention atheists. Certain Buddhist schools of thought hold that there exists an objective, yet utterly impersonal moral law which determines how your next reincarnation will turn out, Holy Man or housefly, based on your behaviour in this one.

    However, that is utterly irrelevant to the point I was making. The fact of the matter is that your theistic, objective morality based on the bible, Jesus or whatever has the same authority over the majority of people on the planet that you feel with regard to non-theistic or rival theistic moral systems, i.e. none. To them, it looks just as artificially invented and based on thin air as you consider other moral theories to be.

    I realize that this is almost incomprehensible to you, since your moral system is obviously true, but such is the situation.

    “Your uncle Joe is not a morally perfect Creator.”

    Ah, the philosophical buzz-words start appearing.

    So your god is a “morally perfect Creator”? Thanks for this information.

    Now back to the question: Why should I accept any obligation towards him to the detriment of my dear Uncle Joe?

    But I see that the answer is apparently to be found here:

    “If you reject God you finally reject life and embrace death. Your rejection of God only hurts you.”

    So I should accept his supremacy in moral matters to avoid hurting me and eventually dying. Wow. What a basis for a supreme, objective moral system.

    A beautiful example of the primitive, utilitaristic character of Christian morality. It is a blatant appeal to the self-interest of the individual: toe the line, and you will be rewarded. Break the rules, and you will get punished.

    Reminiscent of the Mafia thug: “You should really pay this little amount of money and not call the police. After all, we do not want anyone to get hurt, do we?”.

    “God never lies. He is perfectly truthful. Unlike us.”

    Well, that is a different and more coherent proposition than saying that “God is truth.”. Although I have to note that it is once again nothing more but an assertion, as are all statements that start with “God is…”.

    Furthermore, I do not see what god’s alleged inability to lie has to do with whether I should feel any kind of obligation toward him.

    Btw, it seems that god commanding Abraham to kill his son and later revealing it to be only a test of faith really strains the notion that he is perfectly truthful…

    “Yes, the bible as the word of God is my first assumption.”

    Assumption?

    So could it be false? Is it revisable?

    “And Iapetus you did not answer this: [snip]”

    I am not Ken’s spokesperson. However, if you look a post no. 29, you will find his take on this.

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  40. “Btw, it seems that god commanding Abraham to kill his son and later revealing it to be only a test of faith really strains the notion that he is perfectly truthful…”

    Iapetus, it was not only a test of faith. Indeed, it was a way to reinforce God’s truthfulness and reveal more than you seem inclined to accept. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad”. John 8:56 Reading the Bible as a whole would help to see behyond the superficial.

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  41. If I choose my own survival as the overarching principle, I will derive prescriptive statements for my dealings with others. You defined one yourself: “You should lie!”. According to my understanding, this requires at least two people.

    And in a situation where lying does not help my survival, it is a bad thing. We can think of such situations easily:

    imagine you are sitting tied to a chair on a trapdoor that will open in 60s and let you plunge to your certain death. However, there is a blind person in the room with you who could disarm the trapdoor, but can not find the mechanism on his own. In such a scenario, lying about the location of the mechanism is eminently detrimental to your survival, i.e. you should not do it.

    Thus your point is (once again) refuted – even in your own, far-fetched and simplistic scenario, telling the truth can be morally demanded.

    Iapetus, my original point was that there is no obligation to truth telling. In other words, if lying helps one to survive then it would not be wrong. Nothing you said so far has disputed this. As a matter of fact you have agreed. You may present situations where truth telling would help one’s survival – but that is not the point. The point is that lying is not a moral wrong, even for our own selfish needs. So where is the argument?

    The fact of the matter is that your theistic, objective morality based on the bible, Jesus or whatever has the same authority over the majority of people on the planet that you feel with regard to non-theistic or rival theistic moral systems, i.e. none. To them, it looks just as artificially invented and based on thin air as you consider other moral theories to be.

    So? What does that have to do with anything? Remember my your moral system is obviously true – it actually is to me.

    So I should accept his supremacy in moral matters to avoid hurting me and eventually dying. Wow. What a basis for a supreme, objective moral system.

    A beautiful example of the primitive, utilitaristic character of Christian morality. It is a blatant appeal to the self-interest of the individual: toe the line, and you will be rewarded. Break the rules, and you will get punished.

    Well in a sense you are correct. If you separated yourself from the source of life eventually you will die.

    Although I have to note that it is once again nothing more but an assertion, as are all statements that start with “God is…”.

    Furthermore, I do not see what god’s alleged inability to lie has to do with whether I should feel any kind of obligation toward him.

    Of course you are not forced to be obligated to your Creator, nor are you obligated to always be truthful like Him. But you should know that lying is wrong – don’t you know that?

    Assumption?

    So could it be false? Is it revisable?

    Assumption as in presupposition. And no, I could no more deny that Christ is the Son of God than I could deny that 2+2=4.

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  42. Of course, modern non-theistic moral systems do not rely on such naive, crude notions like the mere survival of the individual as the only guiding principle. I mentioned such frameworks as contractualism before, which are based on the recognition of all people as rational, autonomous agents that have to negotiate binding agreements between them that nobody could reasonably object to. This is a far cry from the straw-man you present here.

    Like I said, any halfwit can invent a moral system. But so what? Why is anyone obligated to follow these principles?

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  43. @ #37 James – January 8, 2009 at 12:57 am

    James, all I have done is quote you: “Let’s say that I taught my children a lie. But that lie gave them hope and joy and purpose to their dying day. What have I done wrong?”

    You may wish to disown what you said, or change your mind. But don’t accuse me of falsehoods or being unethical.

    Better still – keep away from trolling like this. We have been over the whole question of morality before and still you continue to misrepresent people which don’t have your beliefs. You ignore their point of view and continue to impose you own ideological interpretation of it.

    I don’t want this discussion to collapse into another troll/troll feeding situation again (I will only close it off if it does). Surely we can all benefit from an honest exchange of views – even if we don’t agree with each other (which of course we won’t).

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  44. @post no. 40:

    “Iapetus, it was not only a test of faith. Indeed, it was a way to reinforce God’s truthfulness and reveal more than you seem inclined to accept.”

    I see. So god set Abraham up under false pretenses (i.e. he lied to him), but decided to call the bluff before his victim went through with the murder. Ultimately, this reinforces his truthfulness.

    Thanks for providing another example of the “elasticity” of theological thought.

    @posts no. 41 & 42:

    “Iapetus, my original point was that there is no obligation to truth telling. In other words, if lying helps one to survive then it would not be wrong. Nothing you said so far has disputed this. As a matter of fact you have agreed. You may present situations where truth telling would help one’s survival – but that is not the point. The point is that lying is not a moral wrong, even for our own selfish needs. So where is the argument?”

    You are still confused.

    Your original assertion was that in a god-less universe, there can be no moral demand to tell the truth. As we have seen, this is obviously wrong even under your own simplistic, caricatured notion that “survival” can be the only overall guiding principle available to the non-theist here.

    I suggest you go back and read my post no. 34 again. “Obligations” and “duties” one is called upon to adhere to, no matter the outcome, are only a tenet of deontological moral systems, not teleological ones. If you introduce “survival” as overall guiding principle, you create a teleological moral framework.

    However, as I have said before, there exist much more sophisticated moral frameworks (both classically teleological as well as others like contractualism) the non-theist can choose to adhere to.

    Additionally, of course there are also deontological, non-theistic moral systems available to the non-theist. Examples are Platonism or Neo-Kantianism, where actions are deemed intrinsically “good” or “bad”.

    I have told you time and again that your naive notion of “No god – no morality” is trivially, utterly wrong and just betrays your lack of knowledge in this field.

    “So? What does that have to do with anything? Remember my [your] moral system is obviously true – it actually is to me. [emphasis mine]

    And here you finally uttered the key phrase.

    Yes, you choose to adhere to Christian morality. Other people choose to adhere to a different moral system because they see it as true or useful or reasonable.

    And I will say it once again: said people look upon your morality exactly the same way that you look upon theirs, while you have no basis whatsoever from which you could label their stance unreasonable or false.

    “Well in a sense you are correct. If you separated yourself from the source of life eventually you will die.”

    And you are afraid of death, right? So you obey god’s commands to avoid that fate. Could the fear and intimidation that Christian morality is based on be exemplified any clearer?

    I hope you can see why this kind of “morality” does not look very sophisticated and attractive to the outsider and why any claims to moral superiority coming from your side are perceived as ludicrous.

    “Of course you are not forced to be obligated to your Creator, nor are you obligated to always be truthful like Him.”

    You once again contradict yourself here. Your assertion was that there is no obligation to truth in a god-less universe. So now you concede that there is no obligation in a god-filled universe either?

    “Assumption as in presupposition. And no, I could no more deny that Christ is the Son of God than I could deny that 2+2=4.”

    Fine.

    Unfortunately, the proposition that “Christ is the son of god” is not an analytical truth. But even if it were, it would not help you. (Incidentally, I thought that “The bible is the word of god.” is your basic presupposition? Whatever.)

    Do you know what that means? It means that your presupposition, which is meant to be a certain truth and justify everything else, can not rationally be justified itself. It is thus, according to your own standards, fundamentally irrational. Your presupposition or first principle or whatever you want to call it is an irrational commitment.

    This is something I tried to get across to Tennant in the “Let’s count teeth” thread, but his inane non-answer showed that it went right over his head:

    taking into account that your position is ultimately irrational, you are in no position whatsoever to deny the rationality of any other position (theistic or non-theistic). Every time you try to do this, you run head-first into a tu quoque objection, which you are unable to counter.

    The only way to avoid this would be to step out of the justificationalist framework, adopt a fallibilist position and see your basic presupposition as tentative and revisable. But we both know that you can not bring yourself to do this, since you require certainty. Too bad.

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  45. James, all I have done is quote you: “Let’s say that I taught my children a lie. But that lie gave them hope and joy and purpose to their dying day. What have I done wrong..

    Ken, I said “let’s say” – any honest person would understand that I was presenting a hypothetical. Not once in that thread did I even suggest that lying to your children was a good thing. You are taking a cheap and dihonest shot Ken.

    Better still – keep away from trolling like this. We have been over the whole question of morality before and still you continue to misrepresent people which don’t have your beliefs. You ignore their point of view and continue to impose you own ideological interpretation of it.

    Ken are you a complete hypocrite? I was discussing your claim about science and why it was self refuting and YOU brought this whole moral thing up. Have you no intergrity man? And then of course Iapetus jumped in to feed his ego (so predictable) by to showing us all how many ten dollar words he knows… That is why we are where we are – I started none of this moral discussion. I only responded.

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  46. Iapetus, obviously Ken does not want this “moarl” debate on this thread. Even though he started it. If you care to continue here is my e-mail – jcateno@hotmail.com. Put “Open Parachute” in the title line so I don’t think it is junk mail.

    Jim

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  47. Excuse me in advance for this, but the latest silliness from (non-) thinkingmatters is, well, silly.

    Stuart has written a thread titled “Scientism” (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2009/scientism/) regards some statements in this thread. These including quoting some of my own words and leaving out some statements that are relevant to them.

    Earlier tonight, I attempted to correct his “interpreting” my words to hold a meaning I did not convey, hoping that at least some of the readers (or “lurkers”) might see what I was actually saying. But my post doesn’t show up, not even with a message to the effect that it’s under for moderation or the like, so I take it that they are running some censorship thing against me. For the censorship thing itself, “so what”. But if this is the case, it’s out of line to quote someone, knowing that they cannot defend or correct misquotations, implied meanings, etc. I’m going to wait until tomorrow night, then if it’s OK with Ken I’ll post my reply here if it doesn’t show up. It’s long-winded I’m afraid, and I doubt anyone will care to read it (that’s fine with me), but I feel I do have a right to put right what I see as misrepresentations of what I wrote.

    I believe that they may also have deleted a post I sent some time ago to another thread about solving Africa’s problems and are certainly blocking me from defending their misrepresenting me in that thread.

    Referring to or quoting people knowing they cannot defend being misrepresented (etc.) is out of line. Try doing that in any other form of publication outside of a totalitarian state. Wouldn’t be allowed, and for good reasons. From that, two pieces of advice:

    1. If you are not going to let someone post, you have no moral right to refer to them, quote them or whatnot, if for no other reason that they have no means to correct incorrect statements about them or their words. With this in mind, I suggest you delete all threads in which you are discussing my words or me. (Or every reference to me or my posts by all posters.) Your present position is morally indefensible. You may now go away pseudo-philosophise about that 😉 It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that drawing conclusions about others or their words without allowing the others a right of reply is out of line. It’s exactly the behaviour of the totalitarian states that you seem to like to make out to be “atheist”.

    2. I strongly suggest you learn to find out what a person actually means before making out this, that and the other about them or their words, or take actions based on them. To Bnonn in particular, I will repeat a point I have made before in various ways: do not place a “tone” on others’ posts unnecessarily (most of the time, it is an exercise in self-justification: think about it).

    PS: Bnonn has since posted in that thread without my post appearing, so I guess he has tossed my post. Bnonn, If you are going to censor me, at least have the balls to tell me, rather have me deduce it second-hand like this. Its gutless, really. Its no hair off my back that I can’t post on “your” blog, but the way you go about things is pretty poor, to be very polite about it.

    PPS: To others, please don’t start a chorus “knocking” them. This post isn’t intended for that! It’s mainly intended for any of their readers that read this thread, so that they might realise some material is “missing” (these are the people I wanted to see my corrections so I think it’s fair that they learn this).

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  48. On second thoughts I probably won’t post the posts that ThinkingMatters have “censored”: it is rather long and it isn’t fair for Ken to have to carry upshot of their poor behaviour. It’s not his fault, after all. If anyone is inclined to let readers at ThinkMatters know that Bnonn has removed material, thus making the articles on his blog misrepresent my position / words with no right of redress, they’re welcome. (But no need to bang on about it please!)

    Out of curiosity (curiosity and scientists, eh?…), it occurs to me that for a publication or organisation to publish material referring to the words or actions of another while denying them any right of redress for errors, misrepresentations, etc., is not just immoral as I wrote earlier, but probably also illegal. It is the onus of organisations to learn the rules and I would suggest that Bnonn, etc., do.

    Besides, since they claim to be such high holders of moral “truth”, perhaps they might like to explore how it possible that (mis)representing others without providing a means for them to correct errors, etc., is morally (or legally) right.

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  49. Heraclides, it could be worth a quick comment or email to “Thinking Matters” to check if you are being deleted. I have lost several comments I made there and when I checked I was assured that I wasn’t being deleted and my next comment worked. I wondered then if they had some problem causing comments to go astray. I agree that when comments are deleted by a blog this should be made clear. But if it’s a software problem we shouldn’t be quick to blame them.

    Of course, Bnonn does have extreme reactions (comment there if you enjoy being called a “moron”, “fool”, etc.) and I sometimes think he deletes comments on Stuart’s articles without Stuart’s knowledge.

    Unfortunately comment removal and banning seems to be very common with Christian apologists and creationists. Something to do with manipulating evidence to fit a preconceived position, rather than deriving position from evidence, I think.

    Apart from their problems – I think the issue of “scientism” is an important one to discuss so why not go ahead here (you can always delete specific things related to Stuart’s and Bnonn’s trivial interests).

    Personally I think it is a common charge made against scientists which proves to be untrue when properly considered (as Chris commented at “Thinking Matters). It’s usually a device for diverting discussion away from the accuser’s own inappropriate use of religion or philosophy – attack as a form of defence! (The inappropriate use of religion and philosophy really needs more discussion). And I find that the most obvious examples of scientism are from the apologists themselves. Eg. Stuart’s inappropriate use of “big bang theory” to prove his god. The continual inappropriate use of fine-tuning arguments, etc., The apologists and creationist web sites abound with examples of scientism.

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  50. Fair point about software issues, the web-based stuff can be a bit fiddly. (I ought to know having written some!) It seem odd that others’ post would get through though. I can sort-of see that he sometimes bumps posts on others’ threads, which must be a bit of a pain for them. All the same I would guess that Bnonn has set it up to filter my posts, it would be a simpler answer more consistent with what it happening.

    I’m not sure I can be bothered reposting it to them anyway. From past experience attempts to correct their tendency to try “rework” what someone said into their own meanings, are met with them “reworking” the meaning of the correction, too! Which, of course, just leads to a pointless endless loop.

    Scientism is a straw-man label and I feel that’s about where it starts and stops. I agree with the “attack as defence” thing, it’s pretty much the entirety of the ID thing, after all. All “attack as defence” and no substance.

    It’s an interesting thought that perhaps the best examples of scientism are from creationists themselves using it as pseudo-science to “justify” their positions! Hadn’t thought of that. It makes me think of a similar thing from “natural health” (aka “woo”) commercials and the like. Shades of Alison’s recent post “‘scientifically proven’ – I think not” (http://sci.waikato.ac.nz/bioblog/2009/01/scientifically-proven-i-think.shtml), pointing out that scientists properly don’t really use that phrase. (Maybe they are missing their real target and should be bitching about these pseudo-scientists in the “natural health” industry?)

    While I’m writing, ‘EvolutionBlog’ (on scienceblogs) has some interesting articles. While I was writing this I was reading one of his post and had to laugh out loud at a quote he gives: “Christian evangelicals like to use the term “born again.” It is an interesting choice of words, for when one is “born again,” one is newly a child. It represents a second return to a state of chronic dependency. Perhaps what we specifically need is not to be “born again,” but to grow up and become a mature adult.” (I’ll leave out the author of the quote for a moment to encourage readers to focus on the words [although it’s not hard to find]. No prizes for guessing why I find this funny or relevant!)

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  51. The link to Evolution Blog is EvolutionBlog

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  52. Stuart is now asking Bnoon to “[…] wax eloquent on the laws of logic requiring a transcendental foundation.” I’m not going to say what I think of that. (It’d be a bit pointless anyway.)

    On another note, what’s a definition for ““the belief that philosophy alone can explain phenomena, or the application of philosophical methods to fields unsuitable for it.” ? Perhaps “philosophism”, as you wrote?

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  53. Bnonn would just love this comment from Frank Wilczek (THE NOBEL PRIZE AND AFTER) discussing Quantum Logic and Quantum Minds:

    Quantum mechanics is so profound that it genuinely changes the laws of logic. In classical logic a statement is either true or false, there’s no real sense of in-between. But in quantum mechanics you can have statements or propositions encoded in wave functions that have different components, some of which are true, some of which are false. When you measure the result is indeterminate. You don’t know what you are going to get. You have states, meaningful states of computation, what you can think of as states of consciousness, that simultaneously contain contradictory ideas and can work with them simultaneously. I find that concept tremendously liberating and mind expanding. The classic structures of logic are really far from adequate to do justice to what we find in the physical world.

    (my bold added).

    It seems that the apologists get so upset with the concept of truth and validation against reality when applied to science because these are the very things they avoid in their own thinking. They insist on ignoring evidence because then it is so much easier to use philosophy and logic to “prove” their own preconceived beliefs. They haven’t even considered that their limited “philosophy” and “logic” may just not be applicable to some aspects of the real world.

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